Growing injury list a concern for Schmidt
ROB PENNEY will never be accused of making Munster less easy on the eye even if winning pageants has never been high on the provincial wish list. Issues of effectiveness and cutting edge and also of Ronan O’Gara’s evolving role made Saturday night’s post-match conference a mix of many things and that was just Munster.
Leinster’s Joe Schmidt was simultaneously high on victory but hamstrung with an injury list big enough to weight him down. Leinster’s MASH ward saw Brian O’Driscoll, Isa Nacewa, Andrew Conway and Kevin McLaughlin, wheeled in which all adds up to a fraught week as they face into their first Heineken Cup match against Exeter Chiefs.
“My biggest concern is injury,” said Schmidt, who had 14 sidelined before the weekend. “It has been exacerbated tonight because out biggest concern before tonight was injury. I’m hopeful of Rob (Kearney) next week but the frustration for me is that there is a now a lot of wait and see and when you are looking for clarity and continuity that makes it even more difficult.”
Schmidt may pick over the bones of the match later but his initial summation of the Leinster performance was lukewarm and hesitant. The crocked players in the changing room were on his mind but already he was looking forward. “We got through a really good defensive workout towards the end of the game,” said the coach. “Our platform was solid, our scrum was good and I though we developed good situations to attack from but we didn’t respect the ball enough at times.”
Schmidt immediately told his players the result from Sandy Park, where debutants Exeter pulled off a surprise 42-30 victory over last year’s Premiership winners Harlequins to go sixth in the league. Leinster secondrow Damian Browne, a veteran of English rugby, knows some of the characters they are likely to meet next week against Exeter.
“They are a good outfit. Joe just told us the result – Joe is straight on to stuff for next week already, as you expect,” said Browne. “I’ve watched them a little bit, they’re really well drilled. I know their backs coach (Ali Hepher), he was at Northampton when I was there. Very good coach, so I would expect nothing less and apparently Rob Baxter (current Exeter coach) is very similar so, yeah they’re a good side.”
Forgetting for the moment their own 30-point haul, Schmidt went straight into cautionary tales. “You don’t put 40 points on ‘Quins without being a quality side. For us it’s all about injuries over the next few days,” he explained.
Penney was fighting on another front. Munster ran the ball in an open hand-to-hand game then changed at the end where more traditional bullock and grunt knocked Leinster backwards.
O’Gara was hauled off with others and while Penney defended his players and his continuance with a game of width and running, there were obvious areas still in a developmental stage. O’Gara didn’t once kick to the corners – once a Munster stable diet – and you wonder if in the current regime he will ever do it again.
“There is still a lot of learning going on . . . we’ve got to get the accuracy . . . it’s killing us both offensively and defensively,” said Penney. “We have the ability to play any style. When we have the foot on their throat we have to nail those opportunities. It’s a real shame we are leaving without a (losing bonus) point. We are still looking for the right mix and there is a discussion about a number of people at a number of levels and a number of positions. Ronan O’Gara has had limited preparation whereas Ian (Keatley) has been there all the time.”
Another issue is Paul O’Connell’s absence. Munster growl a little louder when he’s around. “As we keep saying, Paul is ready when he is ready. He’s getting close but we are not putting a time on it,” said Penney.
“He’s had such a battering for his entire career and he’s taking time to recover. Having Paul around is a great influence. But next week (against Racing Metro) does not define our season. To say next week defines our season is harsh and short sighted. There’s a lot of footy to go.”